My Story

My story begins on Monday morning, July 13th of 2015. I started my day like I would any other. Put my makeup on, straightened my hair, put on my outfit and went to work. At this time, I was working as a pharmacy technician at an outpatient psychiatric pharmacy. I clocked in at 8 AM and went about my normal duties. Suddenly I didn’t feel well. Something was off and I couldn’t figure it out. I was particularly close with one of our pharmacists. She asked that I check my blood sugar. It was normal, at 145. She took my blood pressure while I was sitting and standing and it was also fine. She asked if it could be a migraine. It made sense, so I went into my managers’ office and shut the door and turned off the lights to rest my head on the desk. I became nauseous and decided it was best to leave.

I got home in the early afternoon and immediately went upstairs to the bathroom to throw up. Vomiting, something we’ve all done, right? I knew this was a symptom of a migraine. I didn’t think anything of it. I went to bed and slept for several hours. I woke up later feeling better, had something to eat and returned to bed. I woke up again but this time I was short of breath. My mom used her smartwatch to measure my heart rate at 120 BMP. We decide to go to urgent care right down the street. My blood sugar was 140 before entering urgent care. The doctor said I was simply having a panic attack and to relax and take deep breaths. I stayed there for about an hour and went home. I took another nap (yeah, I nap a lot) and woke up around 10 PM.  I really don’t remember much after this point. I know it was getting harder to breathe and I was extremely thirsty. My boyfriend came over and  I insisted on going to Strong Hospital. I took a Nalgene bottle filled with water and ice and we headed out to the emergency department. I don’t remember checking in, but I remember how awful the wait was. No one knew how critical I was, and how could they? I sat there for a couple of hours while my boyfriend caught me as I started to pass out. I was finally called back. I can only remember maybe two minutes of being with a physician. Then it all goes black. I’ve been told I was alert, conscious and talking. But I don’t remember anything.  

I woke up a week and a half later. The first thing I saw was my mom. I could feel and see all the tubes and wires in and around me. I couldn’t talk because I had a tube down my throat, connected to a ventilator helping me breathe. My right arm was in a giant blue Styrofoam block to keep my arm elevated. It looked like a kitty condo. I remember thinking it would make a great cat toy. I knew the last place I had been was the emergency department. I pieced together that something had happened. I just didn’t know what or how bad it was. I was in and out of consciousness for several days. Those days are filled with wild, hilarious hallucinations. Don’t worry, I will share those. The days that I were awake for are still blurred together. There is no timeline when I think back to that time. Each day is its own. No event belongs to a particular day for me. There was no yesterday or tomorrow. It was literally one day at a time because I was not orientated. I had no idea what day it was or where I was anymore. I was just existing. I was trusting the people around me to take care of me. Familiar faces reminded me I was in good hands.

The last few days of my hospital stay I started to become more lucid and understood more. I was extubated and put on oxygen. I knew I was in the MICU. I knew I had sustained a lung injury and was put on ECMO for six days. At the time, I didn’t understand the gravity of being put on ECMO or that it’s a last resort for patients. I just knew that being put on ECMO made me “special”. I didn’t understand why my arm had been cut into, or why I was having a wound vac (vacuum assisted closure) attached to my arm. I only knew that it was extremely painful, and it needed to be done. So, I didn’t fight it. But I still had my spirit. My personality and sense of humor were still intact, despite everything.  I had an additional surgery. A lot of sleepless nights. I had to relearn how to walk due to being paralyzed for a week and half. My frustration began to grow as I dreamed of going home to my bulldogs and my cozy room. I was ready to leave. I called my mom crying saying that I wanted to go against medical advice and leave the ICU. One of my lead doctors came in the room and said she didn’t think it would be possible to send me home in time for my birthday. I was convinced I was stuck in an ICU bed for my birthday. But everyone moved mountains for me and my family. I was transitioned from an insulin drip back to my insulin pump. A care coordinator called insurance and had me set up with a home wound vac, which was crucial and almost impossible to get before the weekend.

I was admitted on Tuesday July 14th. Saturday, August 1st, around midnight I was transitioned from the MICU to a regular inpatient floor. No more than 12 hours later I was signing discharge papers and leaving the hospital. The next day, Sunday, August 2nd, I celebrated my 21st birthday with all my family and friends in the comfort of my home. I was not expected to survive. I was in lung failure, developed ARDS and sepsis. I was given a survival rate of less than five percent. And if I did survive my parents should expect brain deficits, if not brain death. I was expected to leave the MICU later in the fall, and likely to live my days in a long-term care facility. There is no medical explanation for why or how I lived, or why I have full brain function. But I do know that I am a medical miracle. I’m using this extraordinary chance at life to help others. My only wish is to turn this into something good. I want to help other patients who survive ECMO and traumatic ICU experiences. I want to connect with families to inform them on what to expect in the aftermath. I want to help physicians and providers learn from the patient perspective. I want to create a network of incredible people who support one another. This is my mission for patient advocacy and outreach. 

Thank you to everyone at University of Rochester Strong Memorial Hospital for giving me the very best doctors and nurses. You have given me the most incredible support and opportunities throughout all of this.